The first ten chapters of Open City take place in the Manhattan borough of New York City, to which Julius has recently relocated. Although this young man, who is of German-Nigerian parentage, has lived in the United States for college, he is experiencing New York in the capacity of a professional, as he holds a residency in psychiatry. Julius’s explorations of the city are largely conducted independently, especially through the long walks that become his habit. While he tries to cover as much ground as possible on foot from his home uptown in Morningside Heights, he also travels by subway.
Julius seems to be trying to understand the African heritage of New York, going back to its colonial roots, even more than to locate his personal identity within the contemporary African dimensions of the city. He is also drawn to contemplating American traditions of creativity, as represented by his visit to the folk art museum. His interest in the role of slavery during the colonial era is piqued by a book that one of his patients wrote, concerning the Dutch era. His meanderings take him to an old African burial ground that was unearthed near Wall Street.
Julius is concerned as well with the legacy of trauma in the wake of September 11, 2001. He visits Trinity Church near the World Trade Centers, which was left unharmed amidst the devastation. Finding the church is closed, he walks through its adjoining cemetery, finding further evidence of the individuals who populated the city long ago.